By Val Swisher
I’ve been researching, speaking about, writing articles and books on, and creating global content strategies for years. During this time, the amount of content that companies translate and the number of languages that companies translate into have grown. And the need for companies to have a global content strategy has exponentiated. As I’ve often said, if you add four languages, your tasks to manage that content don’t increase by a multiple of four. They exponentiate to the fourth power.
Yet, I still find that there are many companies that embark on translation without having a good plan. Sometimes, they get lucky and things turn out okay—for a while. Sometimes, they learn their lessons early. But 100 percent of the time, there is a point at which operating a global content machine breaks down if you do not have a solid plan for where you are, where you need to go, and what you need to do to get there.
In this article, I cover the basics of a global content strategy:
- What it is;
- Why it is important; and
- How to prepare.
So let’s get started, shall we?
What Is a Global Content Strategy?
A global content strategy is a plan for managing content that is intended for people whose main language is something other than the source language.
Your global content strategy should have three parts:
- Understanding the goals that your strategy needs to achieve.
- Knowing your starting point.
- Analyzing the gap between where you are and where you need to be.
Understand the goals that your strategy needs to achieve. Before you can build any strategy, you must understand its goals. Without goals, how will you know if you are successful? Part of this understanding needs to be an analysis of the business drivers behind the strategy. For example, is your company venturing into particular markets for the first time? Do you have a strategic customer that is demanding a particular translation? Is all of your content going to be translated, or just some? Is it a one-for-one (all content into all languages), some content into one group of languages, or other content into a different group?
Be sure to define success up front. Perhaps success is publishing a certain set of content into a specific set of languages by a certain date. Perhaps it is broader, such as identifying content that is going to be translated, selecting a translation partner, and setting up the systems and processes you will need to support the translation and localization process.
Once you define your immediate goals, consider future goals. Scale and extensibility are keys to a successful global content strategy. You might be starting with four languages today, but in the future you’ll likely be looking at eight, then twelve, and who knows how many languages further down the road. If you plan for the future, you will be in much better shape when you get there.
Know your starting point. Once you have defined the future, you need to analyze where you are today. Are you currently translating content in an ad hoc way? Do you already have a localization services provider (LSP)? Are different regions in your company creating translations (with or without permission)? Perhaps you have set up an initial workflow for translation—what about it works now? What doesn’t? Which parts are scalable?
Analyze the gap between where you are and where you need to be. How far off from your goals are you now? Do you think you can achieve your goals rather easily? Or do you think that your goals and today’s reality are miles apart and that you have a lot of work to do to bridge the gap?
Sometimes the task of analyzing the gap can be overwhelming. Maybe you don’t know where to begin. Maybe things are so far down a suboptimal path that you are at a loss as to how you might regroup for success.
Try to organize your analysis so that the task of identifying the gap is manageable. You might consider these areas:
- Workflow or process: What new or changed workflows do you need to support your global content strategy?
- People: Do you have the people in place to manage the workflows?
- Partners: Have you identified partners, such as LSPs?
- Systems: What tools and infrastructure changes do you need?
- Content: How can you improve the quality of your source content before it is translated?
Don’t be afraid to seek help. There are several books on the market you can read, lots of articles and webinars you can view, and professionals who specialize in helping to create a scalable, achievable global content strategy.
Why Is a Global Content Strategy Important?
There are many reasons to have a global content strategy. Perhaps you have been tasked with adding languages for your content, and you have no plan. Or you have already started translating content, and you have no plan. Or perhaps you’re not translating content, and you believe that no one else, such as your customer, is translating it either.
Here are some common issues that can be addressed by a global content strategy. Even if you have only one of the factors listed below, it is important to strategically manage all the moving parts in the global content workflow. Otherwise, you are likely wasting time and money and achieving lower quality content that your customers might not be able to understand, regardless of what language it’s in.
You translate content into four or more languages. In my experience, after you hit four languages, you’d better start managing your global content strategically. Many companies chose to implement a global content strategy with three languages. If you are in a situation where the number of languages will grow, it is never too early to plan to manage that growth.
Multiple groups in your company translate content independently. Often multiple groups translate content with no coordination—or even awareness—between the groups. I’ve seen product groups release datasheets or Web pages in multiple languages without anyone in marketing ever participating in a review.
International offices are creating content in their native languages, and no one in the main corporate organization sees it or knows about it. I’ve seen sales teams located in Asia, for example, create their own materials without informing the localization team in the United States. It’s common—and often beneficial—for regions to create unique content in their native languages. After all, who knows a market better than the people who live there? It’s still important for you to know where all of your source content is, who is managing it, how many languages it is in, and where all of that translated content lives.
You don’t know the name of the head of localization. If you are responsible for content—any content—that is being translated, you must have a direct line to your localization team. Siloed efforts at translation and localization might work for a while, but eventually they fail.
You have so many translation vendors that you can’t remember which ones you sent what content to. Many large companies work with more than one translation vendor. That’s a common practice. Unfortunately, I’ve seen companies work with so many translation vendors that they can’t keep track of who is translating what. This lack of coordination results in some content being translated multiple times and some content never making it to translation. In some cases, the lack of coordination can even delay a product launch.
You don’t know what TM stands for. TM stands for translation memory. If your content is being translated, you need to understand what TM is and how it works. You also need to manage your TMs. Having multiple vendors, each using its own version of your TM, can be ridiculously expensive and can create mismatched translations and overall confusion. Know where your TMs are, and keep them to a minimum. In an ideal world, you have a single TM, owned by you, and used by all your translation vendors.
You are considering using machine translation. There are different kinds of machine translation (MT). Traditional systems include statistical, rule-based, and hybrid machine translation. Even more exciting is the newest member of the machine translation family: neural machine translation. Significant advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing have made it an exciting time to be evaluating neural MT. MT systems can be complicated and expensive. To do it right, you need to use best-of-breed MT software and have experts help configure the software for your content. Better yet, you need to work with a best-in-class translation partner who can offer you the latest and greatest solutions for your MT needs.
You have tried using Google Translate for real work. Many companies think that using free machine translation software is good enough. While it has gotten better, it is still not good enough for your mission-critical content, and if your customers are using Google Translate for your content, you have no idea what messages they are getting.
Preparing to Create a Global Content Strategy
Creating a global content strategy can be an onerous task. However, there are some things you can do right away to help prepare for the process. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Learn the Lingo
Like all industries, translation has its own terminology. If you are new to the practice, be sure you learn the basic terms you will need to know. For example:
- Translation memory
- Machine translation
- Translation management
- Translation unit
Write for Translation
So much of the content we create today is impossible or near impossible to translate. We use jargon, idioms, and other phraseology that makes no sense in another language. Regardless of whether you are translating today or not, you will do your readers a great service by making your content global ready. Global-ready content is:
- Easy to read in any language, including English;
- Easy and fast to translate by hand or by machine; and
- Higher quality and much more likely to result in accurate translations.
Here are some basic things that you can do to make your source content global ready:
- Write shorter sentences.
- Write less content.
- Say the same thing, the same way, every time you say it.
- Avoid idioms and jargon.
- Manage your English terminology.
- Use correct grammar.
- Deploy the right tools to create and manage your content.
- Collaborate with others.
Locate Your Content
Audit your content to determine:
- What content you have;
- Where it is;
- Who created it;
- Who is translating it;
- What languages it is being translated into; and
- Who is reviewing the translations.
Review Your Imagery
Be careful with images, maps, and flags. You can easily overstep your bounds and accidentally include offensive content where you least expect it.
Be aware of hand gestures, symbols, icons, and inappropriate imagery.
Not all content can or should be translated. Sometimes, content needs to be written for a specific region, country, or culture. This is called transcreation. Learn about it, and be aware of when it makes sense to spend money on language-specific content.
At some point in your company’s growth, there is a very high likelihood that you will need to translate content. Before you download Google Translate and have at it, I highly recommend creating a global content strategy.
Having a global content strategy will:
- Save you a lot of time now and later;
- Save money;
- Help ensure your translations are the highest possible quality; and
- Help you keep your sanity (and maybe your job).
It takes a lot of work to create a robust, scalable, global content strategy. It is important to understand the goals of the strategy, where you are today, and how you are going to bridge the gap to fulfill the vision of where you need to be.
However, the time and work it takes will pay off many times over as your company grows and your global presence expands.
VAL SWISHER (email@example.com) is the Founder and CEO of Content Rules, Inc. Val enjoys helping companies solve complex content problems. She is a well-known expert in content strategy, structured authoring, global content, content development, and terminology management. Val believes content should be easy to read, cost-effective to create and translate, and efficient to manage. Her customers include industry giants such as Google, Cisco, Visa, Facebook, and Juniper Networks. She’s the author of three books. Her latest book, Global Content Strategy: A Primer is an introduction to creating and managing global content.